Real Madrid is arguably the biggest club managerial job in the world, yet, once again, there's a vacancy on the bench at the Bernabeu after the firing of Julen Lopetegui four months after he took charge.
The manager, whose summer negotiations with Real Madrid cost him his Spanish national team job on the eve of the World Cup, has made way after struggling at the start of life in the capital city. His departure opens a vacancy, which, for the meantime, will be filled by Real Madrid Castilla coach Santiago Solari. But a number of high-profile candidates have been batted around to take on the world's greatest hotseat, which has been known to chew up and spit out even the most reputable of managers. Only Zinedine Zidane has left on his own terms in recent years, and perhaps he saw coming what has transpired: a toxic situation, an aging core of stars and the after-effects of the departure of a superstar who wasn't adequately replaced.
So in what direction should Real Madrid go to choose a new leader to take it back to prominence? We take a look at the options reportedly being considered:
CREDITOR: Real Madrid has a big decision to make, yet it’s unclear how desirable the job even is in the first place anymore. They don’t make leashes this short for dogs. But the reigning European kings need a new leader and there are some names being batted around, so let’s jump into the reported candidates, starting with the most special one of all: Jose Mourinho.
ECHEGARAY: All right, so right from the bat, let me just say that this could only go two ways. Either it's genius or the worst idea ever. There is no in between when you talk about Jose Mourinho. Also, let's remember one particular tidbit. It was Mourinho's Real Madrid that lost 5-0 at Camp Nou back in 2010. So at least Lopetegui got one goal! But Mourinho did win a trophy with a Copa del Rey title, and it was against Barcelona. And his second season was even better, winning El Clasico, winning the league and breaking the record for most goals scored with 109. I think if he came back, things are different and in many ways this squad in particular could be more receptive to Jose, because without Cristiano Ronaldo, the biggest star now would be The Special One himself.
CREDITOR: I just think Mourinho luster has worn off at this point, and going from one volatile situation with a heated fan base to another doesn’t add up. Perhaps Real Madrid would be more receptive to the transfer spending he’d like to do come January, but I can’t see, logistically, how that move unfolds in a smooth way. Which brings us to candidate No. 2, who is said to be Real Madrid’s top choice: Antonio Conte.
ECHEGARAY: Conte to me ticks many of the boxes that Real Madrid needs right now, and the issues that Zinedine Zidane warned about earlier this year: The Italian is renowned for a strong defensive shape and opts for discipline ahead of glamorous football, so that could be something to think about in terms of how Real Madrid moves forward. If you're hoping Real Madrid wins matches 3-0 every weekend, Conte might not be your man, but what Real Madrid needs right now is stability and a clear sense of motivation. He could do that.
CREDITOR: Conte should be the pick. Just look at what he accomplished at Chelsea and Juventus before that. But in a club where player ego (not to mention Florentino Perez the puppet master) can rule all, that's a potentially combustible situation. And according to reports, some locker room dissension over his potential hiring has led to him no longer being a top candidate, which tells you all you need to know about the current culture at the club. A managerial hire should go over well with the locker room but the fear of a more disciplined coach altering the status quo should not be the reason it doesn't happen. There's also the tangential impact hiring him would have on the club's ability to sign Eden Hazard from Chelsea, given their fractured relationship, but that, too, shouldn't be a breaking point.
ECHEGARAY: Speaking of player ego and club culture, how, then, could someone like Santiago Solari do? The interim manager moves up the ranks after coaching Castilla, and knows already the ins and outs of how this club operates.
CREDITOR: It's so counterintuitive, but he really might be the best option, at least for the remainder of the season and given who is currently available. It's not quite a Zidane (or even a Roberto Di Matteo at Chelsea) situation, but it's not that far off, is it? Played for the club. Knows the club's set-up. With the talent at Real Madrid's disposal, so much of the job concerns man management and having the respect and ear of the players. He doesn't have Zidane's stature or playing résumé, but in terms of a short-term fix, he should do fine, and the schedule is favorable for him to get a soft landing.
ECHEGARAY: I agree. It's actually something I tweeted as soon as Lopetegui was fired and even went as far to say that he should get a legitimate shot at getting the permanent job for all the reasons you just mentioned.
But, in this particular situation I am a realist and know that's not how Perez operates. One bad or unfavorable result, just one (and it will probably be away at Roma on Nov. 27 that does it), and his days will be numbered. But I think, like you said, this is all about man management, and who better to handle egos than a man who is already too familiar with the narcissism that exists at the club? Having said all that, he will 100% won't get the job.
CREDITOR: Of course not. So then who? Should reported candidate Roberto Martinez leave Belgium, one of the best national teams in the world and one that can win Euro 2020, for this volatility? Should Mauricio Pochettino, who is also said to be an apple of Perez's eye, leave what he's built at Tottenham, where so many core players (and he himself!) have signed on for long-term commitments, and take the leap? Arsene Wenger isn't doing anything these days...
ECHEGARAY: I think Real Madrid's next manager needs to achieve two immediate things in order to restore order at the club. The first is to motivate this team with a fresh philosophy and a harder work ethic. Someone who can rejuvenate the likes of Sergio Ramos and inspire somewhat inspiring young stars like Marco Asensio and up-and-coming 20-year-old Uruguayan Federico Valverde. The second is to be a pragmatist with Florentino Perez and validate his demands and decisions but at the same time maintain order within the squad.
This is not a Band-Aid problem, and it needs long-term thinking. For me? Do everything you can to get Pochettino, who knows high-profile players such as Luka Modric and knows the league. And a bonus: a bigger incentive for Harry Kane to arrive next summer.
CREDITOR: I think you're spot on, and if stagnation at Tottenham takes hold (their Champions League is in peril but they remain in contention in the Premier League for now), then perhaps the lure of a new setting, with the promise of big money being spent, would be enough to secure him. Regardless, it's pretty incredible how undesirable the club has become for a number of very good managers. That should tell you all you need to know about the environment at the Bernabeu right now. This is a team that has won three straight Champions League titles and is on just about every star player's wishlist! Hazard essentially said "come and get me" at the World Cup! Zidane saw what was coming, and that appears to have resonated around the small but elite coaching community.